Professional Learning Network or Student Learning Network or Both?

We have heard the buzz for years that we need to make learning authentic for our students. Maina (2004) states, authentic learning “involves increasing motivation and enthusiasm, helping learners to make decisions concerning their learning, as well as identifying non-traditional ways learning is enhanced and accounting for such learning” (p. 7).

So how do we do this with our current students? Here is an exercise I like to do with student teachers and myself as a self-check. Print off a class list and place a check next to a student that you connect with. Not just a question and answer connection, but an authentic connection with meaningful dialogue in or out of class. You might notice that the students who are not doing well in class are missing checks next to their names. My point here is we must make a connection in class before we can push the envelope to help build their global connections to learning.

connected students

Connectivism is a theory that works much the same way the internet works, with knowledge not in one central location, but more of a network with information being shared by a collection of ‘nodes’. We need to help students, and students need to help teachers find these nodes. Nodes could be people, institutions, movements, and/or organizations. Therefore to develop knowledge, you must develop a network for yourself and teach your students to develop their own learning network. They will also share knowledge back with you.

Take the internet for a great example; it is a large, super collection of knowledge. We teach our student and ourselves to sift through this collection of knowledge with a critical eye. As we develop these skills we will teach these similar skills to students. The 21st century learner needs to learn the skills on how to access the information they specifically need.

We need to look at the definition of Connectivism. George Siemens, who is considered as the precursor of Connectivism defines his theory as a learning theory for the digital age (Siemens, 2004).  Simply put, it is a learning theory that is based on the idea that knowledge exists in the world rather than simply in someone’s brain. Connectivism defines learning as a continual process which occurs in different settings including communities of practice, personal networks and in the workplace. Siemens has defined the following principles of Connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up–to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision making is itself a learning process.
  • Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. (Siemens, 2004).

Since connectivism relies on sharing, any form of technology that allows for sharing could be utilized to make connections between people and ideas. Cellphones, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and wikis could all be used to convey knowledge. We need to build our own professional learning network (PLN) to help our students build their own student learning network (SLN). I made up the SLN acronym, because we love them in education!

So if you are interested in expanding your professional learning network (PLN) or helping your student learning network (SLN), here’s a directory of some of the best connectivity tools:

Category Value Examples and Guides
Social Networking Keeping up with personal, more   social contacts like friends, family, and former students Facebook,   Myspace, Google   Circles
Microblogging Populated with educators from   around the world who share best practices and resources in short bursts Twitter
Professional Profiles Find other professionals and   experts in your field LinkedIn,
Wikis Community-monitored sites that can   function as websites or for group organization and projects Wikispaces,   pbwiki, wetpaint  
Blogs Great sources of information such   as classroom best practices as well as personal opinions; Blogs monitor the   heartbeat of new trends in education and the commenting back and forth leads   to many great ideas and relationships WordPress,   Blogger, Typepad,   Edublogs,Kidblog
RSS Reader RSS means “Real Simple   Syndication” – an RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with many   of your favorite blogs, all in one place
(see this video ‘RSS in Plain English’)
Netvibes,   (My   Netvibes), PageFlakes,   Google   Reader
Nings Communities of people interested   in similar topics, with forums and messaging Classroom   2.0, Future   of Education, Ning
Social Bookmarking Share bookmarks with others, see   what others are bookmarking; you can join groups and get email updates on new   bookmarks Diigo,   Diigo Groups,   Delicious
Webinars Live, on-line presentations or   conferences, with real-time chat, hosted by experts on specific topics; Great   way to learn about new things and to meet new people Classroom   2.0 Live!, EdTechTalk   Live, Elluminate
Backchanneling of conferences When there are neat (and   expensive) conferences that you can’t attend, follow conversations and links   about the highlights Twitter   search latest acronym of conferences

So in summary, connect with your students, build those relationships, connect with your PLN and help students create a their own SLN. This will help boost your connectivism and authentic learning in your classroom.


Maina, F. W. (2004). Authentic learning: Perspectives from contemporary educators [Editorial]. Journal of Authentic Learning, 1(1), 1-8. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from


One thought on “Professional Learning Network or Student Learning Network or Both?

  1. Love the post Gord. We are built as social beings and our learning strategies need to also reflect this. I love the activity – check marks next to the students name. Something I will use right away!

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